Before I leave the testing area, I find a washroom. While I have sanitized my hands twice since entering the building, I know that Purell, while good in a pinch, is not nearly as good as washing. And considering, that this place is far more likely to be ripe with disease than any place I had been since my flight home, I wanted to make sure that I followed protocols. I also took the opportunity to change masks.
My cardiology appointment is in the Lawrence pavilion which is directly adjacent to where I am. I enter the building. I am confronted by two staff members who direct us to Purell our hands and to take our temperatures. The greeter who directs me is properly masked and does her job with great efficiency. But as I am walking away from the entrance, I notice the other greeter is only wearing her mask over her mouth. Her nose is completely exposed.
As I climb the stairs to Cardiology on the 2nd floor (I have no desire to get on a crowded elevator) I silently fume that a medical facility would have someone who greets half the people entering the building with such compromised precautions. It is dangerous. It sends the wrong message to people. I realize that getting worked up over this before a cardiology appointment is probably contraindicated so as I await my stress test, I try to think of reasons why this person was half masked. Perhaps she has a compromised pulmonary system, or she has a cold so breathing through a mask properly positioned would be difficult. But that did not make sense. Why would the Medical Group put someone who cannot use a mask at its front entrance? I eventually decide that it was simply a mistake. That the greeter didn’t notice the mask has slipped from her nose. It allows me to move on so I can worry about something closer to my heart, my upcoming stress test and echocardiogram.
The rational side of my brain said not to worry. While I am not a health freak, I am an exercise junkie. I have run marathons, triathlons, and in normal times I go to the gym for an hour plus almost every day. When Covid marooned me in Brazil I walked three miles almost every day and continued when I got home to Chatham. The inverted T wave was not anything new. Six or seven years ago my EKG had shown the same thing and the subsequent stress test had given the physicians little concern. And since then I had lost weight and exercised more. Nothing to worry about.
Doubt, though, is insidious. It invades almost like a virus. Just a small infiltration gains strength until eventually it overpowers your more logical thoughts. Especially when the mortality rate for Covid 19 patients who have cardiovascular problems is far higher than those who have no underlying conditions. What if I did not get my high cholesterol under control in time and now have blocked coronary arteries? You used to be a smoker…what if that compromised your heart? Didn’t Grandpa die of a massive coronary?
As usual for the Medical Group, I am kept waiting in the socially distanced waiting area far past the time of my appointment. It allows my doubts to blossom like desert flowers after the rain.
The team that gave me my stress test were dressed like Covid warriors. Each had a gown on over their scrubs and were equipped with masks, face shields, and gloves. My friend Sue is a therapist who believes one of the good things to happen from this epidemic is that we have learned to “read” people from their eyes. The eyes of my tester’s showed what one hoped from a health care professional: certainty, kindness, compassion, and a dash of humanity. It was reassuring and allowed me a modicum of relaxation as they placed electrodes on my chest, and a blood pressure cuff around my arm. The nurse practitioner, who was administering the test, told me she would take it easy on me as I had to wear a mask. And she did. I barely broke a sweat. As they were removing the sensors from my body, she explained I had done “just fine.” Blood pressure was normal. Heart rate climbed and fell appropriately, and inverted T-wave was stable. In other words, according to the stress test, I was fine.
If you have just passed a cardiac test, sitting in a cardiology waiting room is a humbling experience. Most of the people who surround you are not as fortunate as you. You can see from their grey pallor, hesitant steps, and furtive glances that the news they have received is not as positive as yours. It is a moment where you can pause and thank the great architect in your universe for this moment of grace. I realize this and say a prayer.
It is also boring. No television at which to rage. No magazines to distract. People watching is uncomfortable and unkind considering the circumstances of our gathering. I turned to the modern-day superhero of boredom; my iPhone. I thought I would mindlessly wander through the fields of Facebook, distracting myself with the joys, pet peeves and angsts of those people whose paths had crossed with mine. And for a while it was comforting. Monaliza baby girl was growing and still her mother’s pride and joy. Frank was giving a video lecture on some newts he had found near his home in Virginia. Bob was properly outraged at Trump’s latest tweet.
All was well until I came across a video that had been posted by Harper (the prettiest girl in my eighth grade class whom I had not seen in 50 years) I enjoy her posts not only because in addition to seeing how someone you had a crush on before you had ever kissed someone was up to but because she and I were political still soulmates.. She hated Donald Trump with at least the same burning intensity that I did. Of late, she had been particularly outraged over his lack of leadership during the Covid-19 crisis and the insensitivity, ignorance and boorishness of his supporters fighting against common sense measures to fight the disease such as social distancing and wearing a mask. Her post’s comments said “Douchenzzles” and was linked to a video titled “Anti-Maskers Lose It Over Mask Mandate.” It was a clip of people testifying in front of a commission in Florida who were considering imposing a requirement for citizens to wear masks in public. Curiosity got the better of me, so after placing my earbuds in, I click play on the video. It was as horrifying as any slasher movie ever produced.
A woman who looked just like my next-door neighbor opined “I don’t wear masks for the same reason I don’t wear underwear…. things need to breathe. “
A white-haired grandmother, wearing a mock police uniform testified “We were going against God’s breathing system.”
A person who looked remarkably like my best friend in 2nd grade mother’s said “You are obeying the devil’s law and will be arrested for crimes against humanity”
Another person testifying screamed they these “communist dictates that trampled on our constitutional rights”
One person claimed that since much of our communication was non verbal that requiring people to wear masks would expose us to increased pedophilia and sex trafficking. There were several folks who testified that mandating mask wear was violating their constitutional rights although they were vague about which constitutional right was being impeded.
I turned off my phone. It was heartbreaking for this cardiac patient. How could people who claimed the divine forget the golden rule? How could those who claim to love our constitution ignore the fact that fundamental to it is it “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and spreading the disease because you failed to wear a mask ignores all of those principals. How could people who I am sure saw themselves as great neighbors be so unneighborly.
Thankfully, before I could explore this death spiral anger, pity and frustration my name was called.
The echocardiogram technician dressed in the same battle gear as those who administered my stress test. She led me into an examining room where I was asked to take my shirt off and lay on the exam room table. An echocardiogram is similar to an Ultrasound conducted on pregnant women but instead of looking for a fetus they are examining the structures of the heart. My inverted t-wave might indicate structural issues with my pump that would not show up during a stress test such as blocked coronary arteries, misfunctioning valves, or other things that thump thump in the chest. From a physical point of view, it is gentle on the patient. All that is required of you is to lay there and occasionally breathe while the technician manipulates a lubed probe across your chest and side. Despite, the fact that the hardest thing that I have to do during the test is to look at an amateurishly drawn sky on the ceiling, I am nervous. What will this test reveal? We know that my heart is functioning well but is there a defect inside ? Am I okay?
The answer is yes. At the end of my exam, the echocardiast tells me that while only a Dr. is authorized to tell me the specifics of the “study” , everything looks fine. They would not be letting me leave otherwise. I smile underneath my mask when it occurs to me that I will be leaving the Medical Group with a “good heart.”
Sadly, that good heart feeling does not last long. As I am leaving the building, I see the greeter who was wearing a mask but not covering her nose. She has not wrapped that rascal. I do not know whether or not she has been tested for the disease recently and is disease free. I do not know whether or not she has a medical condition that makes it difficult to breathe through her mouth. What I know for sure is, at best this is a terrible example for a medical facility to set. But she could also be exposing hundreds if not thousands to the disease.
I think of countless things I can say to her but, at this point , all I want to do is get as far away from her as possible. I vow to write the group when I get home about their lax practices. An act, I try to convince myself, has more impact than an individual confrontation. What it lacks is immediate satisfaction. As a consequence, as I walk to the car, I seethe. I think, “A burden that I have been carrying for months has just been lifted. I don’t have to worry about whether I have heart problems. My heart is good. And this bitch with her reckless disregard for others has just ruined that moment.”
One of the truisms that guide my life is that you are responsible for your emotions. When you are hurt or angry, it is up to you whether or not you want to be consumed by those emotions and let them have power over you. Or, you can use their energy to launch you in a different direction. If a person makes you angry, staying angry is just giving them power. You can choose to do that, or you can choose to let those emotions go and give yourself power by finding a more centered place. Invariably, at least for me, if I do that, the decisions I make are far better than when I let my emotions control my behavior.
I will not allow this woman to ruin what should be a moment of relief and wellbeing. So, as I climb into my car and begin my ride home, I focus on what should be the headline of the day. “I have a good heart…I have a good heart…I have a good heart.” It serves as a mantra, relaxing me and allowing the focus on the positive: “I have a good heart.” As often happens when my anger is cleared away, I begin to see the wider panorama of my petty annoyances during the day and since my return to the United States.
What connected the greeter wearing the mask that only covered her mouth, to the inconsiderate parents who children terrorized the testing facility to the women who chose to broadcast their phone calls without a mask in a crowded environment? Why was it that wearing a mask, a simple act that is effortless seem to be an afront, even a battle cry for some.? Why did Donald Trump work so hard at downplaying a national disaster and fail to pick up the mantle of leadership in this crisis every single time he had an opportunity to do so?
It would be easy, and perhaps even correct, to say that these people were ignorant or stupid. Perhaps they did not know that in every single case where masks have been mandated the spread of Covid 19 had been retarded and in some cases completely halted.
But I did not think that was the case. I have done my best to avoid the news since the outbreak began in March. I have glanced at news sites, read the occasional post on Facebook but I have not studied the disease in any focused manner. But even I who has tried, for the sake of his sanity, to maintain low news input knew that the single most effective way to prevent the diseases spread is to wear a mask.
Perhaps they are simply crazy. Certainly, some of the people who testified before the commission in Florida had a vastly different sense of reality than I did. But as Hunter S. Thompson said ““The Edge… There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.” In other words, I cannot tell if those folks are crazy because I am not crazy enough to judge them.
More importantly, some of the things that I have railed against seem more deliberate than crazy. Trump not wearing a mast even when a sign says everyone must wear a mask is a premeditated political act. Whether he wants to convey invulnerability, strength, or bravery it does not matter because it is intentional. Not stupid. Not crazy. Purposeful.
What connected these things? Something did. I knew it. But similar to Tantalus grasping for the apple just beyond his reach the unifying factor in all of these things eluded me.
I had a teacher who once told me if I had a problem that I was having trouble solving I should focus on the part of the problem that I could solve. In this case, the only part of the conundrum that I utterly understood was why I felt the way that I did.
Every person on the face of the planet should realize what an awful disease Covid 19 is by now. It is impossible for them not to know that is not a simple flu that will go away if we ignore it. Prayers will not rid the world of this disease. Science and knowledge will. Science tells us that wearing a mask and being socially distant reduces the number of infections and decreases the death rate. Our hope for salvation will come through science whether it be through a vaccine or treatments that mitigates the disease’s ravages.
Why does it bother me so much that people are ignoring these facts? Some of it has to do with self-preservation. I have no desire to get the disease. The idea of being so sick, possibly being hospitalized and ventilated or even dying scares the hell out of me. But I am healthy so if I follow the rules: wash my hands regularly, wear a mask in public and maintain social distance I have a better than average chance to avoid this disease. Even if I catch it, I have great Dr’s and good insurance that will provide me with the best possible chance of beating this disease.
I know that I am fortunate. I can wait this disease out financially and emotionally.
But I also know that there are so many people who do not have what I have. They have preexisting conditions, elderly and frail, or other factors where catching the disease means a death sentence.
40 million people in the United States have lost their jobs due to this disease. Millions more each week Covid goes unabated. Some of these people are living paycheck to paycheck with little or no savings. Each day the crisis goes on unabated means one more day of despair, hunger and increasing debt. Every day that it continues it means they are without adequate or any insurance which means catching the disease will mean bankruptcy and a financial ruin that may never get repaired.
I have huge compassion for those folks. I know that if I do something as simple as wearing a mask, I am helping to protect those people and give them a better chance to weather the Covid 19 storm.
Thinking all this allows me to imagine what my mother used to say when I would exhibit compassion. She would say “You have a good heart.”
I smile to myself. So, I do. Dr. certified. But what does that say about the greeter, the phone talker, the bad parents, the testifiers and the Donald? Do they have “bad hearts.” With the exception of Trump, I do not think I can make that judgement. I do not think that they are evil.
What do you call those people who know that wearing a mask, washing hands or maintaining social distance will help make sure that their neighbors, friends and fellow citizens don’t suffer disease and hardship but choose not to do it.
As I pull into my garage the right word occurs to me. They are heart-less. It is not that they don’t have any compassion. I cannot make that judgement. But it is truly clear that they have less heart than they should.
The garage door closes. I am home. And, since this is where the heart is, I go inside.